It’s time we accept Russell Westbrook for who he is

Russell Westbrook 2021
Russell Westbrook continues to put up crazy stats in 2021. Photo from USA Today.

On Tuesday 27th April Russell Westbrook recorded his 12th triple double of the month of April and in doing so, passed Wilt Chamberlain’s 1968 record of most triple doubles in a month. In each of his last 25 games Westbrook has logged-in a double-double tying John Stockton’s record among guards in the NBA. That’s just who Russell Westbrook is. Rarely have we seen someone stuff the stat sheet as effervescently as him. He plays the game at a breakneck pace making him a box-office attraction.

It also makes him incredibly flawed.

Russell Westbrook stats 2021

We put Westbrook on a pedestal and hoped he would capture a championship during his run with the Oklahoma City Thunder and his one-year stint in Houston. It didn’t happen. Russell Westbrook might not go down as a champion, but his status as an NBA icon will be much more fitting.

Let Russ cook

When Westbrook was traded to the Washington Wizards on 2nd December 2020 from the Houston Rockets for John Wall, NBA discourse saw this as merely swapping problems.

Westbrook’s year with the Rockets ended on a whimper losing in five games to the Los Angeles Lakers in the second round.

Westbrook was visibly not the same player from the regular season where he had his most efficient year (27ppg on 47% shooting).

The effects of COVID and a litany of niggling injuries meant Westbrook missed the majority of their first round series vs the Thunder. John Wall moving to Houston was an eyebrow raiser considering he had not seen the court in the best part of two years. If that year with the Rockets told Russ one thing it was that he missed being ‘The Man’. Playing alongside James Harden, Russ trailed him in usage rate (36% to 34%). Westbrook needs the ball. His years playing alongside Kevin Durant in OKC demonstrated this, and sometimes to the detriment of his own team.


Ol’ triple double Russ 

Playing in Washington, Westbrook has rediscovered his insatiable appetite for recording triple doubles. In the 54 games he has played this season, he has achieved a triple double in 29 of them.

When compared to his 2016/17 MVP season, where Westbrook had 42 triple doubles, he did so in 2802 total minutes. Westbrook recording 29 triple doubles in 1930 minutes is remarkable.

The rate of which he is racking them up is better than his MVP year which in itself broke the record for number of triple doubles in a single season. Diving deeper, Westbrook’s triple doubles translate very favourably into wins. Since the 2014/15 season, his team’s record when getting a triple double is as follows:

  • 14/15: 7-4 64%
  • 15/16 18-0 100%
  • 16/17 33-9 78%
  • 17/18 20-5 80%
  • 18/19 24-10 71%
  • 19/20 5-3 62%
  • 20/21 16-13 55%
  • Overall: 123-44 74%-win percentage = 61-win pace over 82 games.

The young and the Russless 

What Russell Westbrook has shown this year (and in the past) is that he is a floor raiser. He is someone that can elevate the number of wins on a basketball team. Seems simple enough, right?

Wrong.

We have seen countless examples in the past of players who don’t move the ball, chuck up a ton of shots, score inefficiently and ultimately are under .500 stares directly at Stephon Marbury and Jerry Stackhouse.

It is poignant however that when Russell Westbrook asked out of Houston last summer, the teams linked with him were the New York Knicks and Washington Wizards. Now granted the Knicks have been tremendous this season, but without the benefit of hindsight, it looked like only the NBA’s basement teams wanted his services. This is a former league MVP we are talking about. The only player to lead the league in scoring and assists twice. As good as Westbrook is, he will never be that player who gets you over the hump and win a championship.

In many ways Westbrook is this generation’s Allen Iverson. Two icons, two players who have an aura that commands respect, two MVPs, and two (largely) inefficient scorers. What Iverson was for his era, Westbrook has taken on the mantle in his. Never cheating the fans, always going hard every night, and being the lightning rod for their respective teams.

New beginnings

Playing alongside Bradley Beal and under head coach Scott Brooks, Westbrook is back playing as his usual self.

Piling up stats and playing for a post-season appearance is the agenda right now for Russ and the Wizards organisation.

Per StatMuse, Russell Westbrook statistically is the most efficient clutch scorer this season (65.9eFG%). NOBODY would have predicted that.

This is the same Westbrook whose basketball IQ in the clutch in years gone by has reared its ugly head on many occasions. This is year 13 for Russell Westbrook. Our opinions of Westbrook are similar to stages of grief. We denied the criticism Magic Johnson threw at him during the 2012 NBA Finals, and instead explained Westbrook’s performance as a sign of inexperience on the big stage.

Fast-forward nine years and we’ve reached acceptance. This is who Russell Westbrook is.

Call him a stat chaser. Call him a ball hog. Call him whatever. His iconic status is already cemented.

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About Kelechi Ulu 20 Articles
It was during the 2018 Conference Finals my interest in the NBA began. Watching the Rockets and Warriors duel it out was something akin to a movie scene. It was then when I knew I was hooked onto the NBA... Since then I love reading all things NBA and listening to a plethora of basketball podcasts. It’s all for the love of the game

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